Being a Deerhoof fan requires a lot of effort. I don’t mean in terms of appreciating the actual music – though jarring at first, the Bay Area group’s rough-meets-cute dissection and subsequent rebuilding of rock stands as some of the most spellbinding sounds of the Oughts – but rather all the baggage that comes with it. Friends who can playfully laugh off, say, Grizzly Bear go into full-on bash mode when Deerhoof comes up. “How can you listen to this?” “Uhhhhh, OK.” One long-time pal went as far as to say “this isn’t music” after I tried to show him the genius of “Panda Panda Panda.” Deerhoof couldn’t even catch a break when they tried to be more “normal” – end-of-decade albums Friend Opportunity and Offend Maggie veered towards more traditional song structure while still staying “Deerhoofian.” My mom more or less forced me to stop playing them during a road trip. To love Deerhoof is to admire them solitarily.
This devotion got put to the ultimate test Tuesday night in Osaka when Deerhoof played the Akaso music hall, and forces both technological and natural conspired to stop me from seeing some sweet fractured rock. Midway through my grease-laden KFC dinner I realized I was on the wrong side of town, forcing me to wolf down my mayo-heavy sandwich and rush through the rainy streets of Osaka to get to the subway. Once on the right end, I spent about 45 minutes wandering aimlessly around the maze-like streets of Umeda trying to find Akaso, my phone providing the worst possible directions. For a lesser group, I probably would have given up and consoled myself at Baskin Robbins. But for Deerhoof…I trudged on. I finally found the venue and could hear the band playing the opening track to 2003’s excellent Apple O “Dummy Discards A Heart” from outside. Despite being late, I ponied up the money and went in.
Deerhoof didn’t disappoint and made my soaking journey totally worth it. The band’s current four-member incarnation leans toward guitar-heavy sound, the duo of John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez providing the muscle behind the night’s Offend Maggie heavy set list. In front of a trippy projection mixing cut-up art with a movie about Pilgrims, they delivered true-to-album renditions of “Buck And Judy” and “The Tears And Music Of Love.” The emphasis on guitars added some twists to older songs – “The Perfect Me’s” goofy anime-circe-1975 keyboards got booted in favor of a metal chug that added a sinister spin on one of the band’s more peppy tracks. The live take of “Offend Maggie” ignored the vocals entirely and instead became an extended jam.
Then there were the two “unique” elements of Deerhoof. Lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s cute sing-speak has always been the main reason people shun this band, but she’s come a long way since the group’s early days. She still sounds child-like, but in a way that isn’t forced. She’s no novelty – she’s morphed into a legit lead singer and she sounded confident at Akaso, delivering clear lyrics on older songs that were once to squeaky to decipher. As for drummer Greg Saunier…he remains the true spectacle live. Hunched over his kit, he pounded away in his own little world that just happened to overlap with the rest of the band. His manic beating gave “Fresh Born” an energy not present on Offend Maggie’s version. Saunier’s both the main source of chaos and the dude responsible for keeping all of Deerhoof’s disparate moving ahead – this really stands out live.
Above all else, the Deerhoof live experience is fun. I don’t mean fun like “look he’s in a giant bubble” or “he’s standing on a ladder as he sings”…I mean Deerhoof looked like they were having a ball on stage. Matsuzaki busted out her signature goofy hand motions throughout the show, and on set closer “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back” even did some cheerleader leaps. Saunier and Dieterich even got chances to take the mic, singing covers of Canned Heat and The Ramones respectively. Saunier also seemed to be getting a kick out of practicing his Japanese with the crowd…the fact he sounds a lot like Fozzie Bear making everything all the more entertaining. I’m still sure the majority of people I know would have hated the show, but to the Deerhoof fans at Akaso it was as perfect as it could get.
OGRE YOU ASSHOLE headlined the night’s event, making this the second time they have managed to take top billing over a far more interesting North American act. Though the fact Japanese fans actually recognize them is probably the main reason, I’ll still hypothesize that the real reason they came on last was because of how freaking loud they are. They sounded absolutely behemoth thanks to Akaso’s tip-top sound system, easily coming off as twice as loud as notoriously noisy Deerhoof. OGRE use the mammoth noise as their primary hook, hoping the pure aural battering distracts from the fact none of the members do anything interesting on stage and their songs are hit-or-miss.
That’s a bit too negative, as most of their set sounded good enough. OGRE could be easily tossed into the current “they listened to indie bands from the 90s” lot alongside Cymbals Eat Guitars and Surfer Blood – a little Modest Mouse there, a pinch of Built To Spill and a nice heaping of shoegaze thrown in. They find a good sound, latch onto it for a few minutes and hope the audience enjoys it. Sometimes they stumble onto something great, other times it’s the sonic equivalent of watching a dog chasing its tail for too long. Some of OGRE’s songs just circle the drain, and circle way too long. They have two legitimate bits of excellence, though – set opener “Pinhole” finds the band at their most cheerful, while the Lonesome Crowded West inspired “Coin-Laundry (Laundromat)” kills in any setting. OGRE YOU ASSHOLE sound fine from the comfort of home, but drag a little too much live. Especially following the constantly exciting Deerhoof performance.
Maybe I’m just bitter OGRE YOU ASSHOLE cost Deerhoof a later start time, which would have allowed me to see “Panda Panda Panda.” I don’t care what you say, that songs brilliant.